Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth has filed a complaint with the state ethics commission charging state Rep. Eric Watson’s fundraising efforts “acted both unethically and even illegally.”
Watson has responded, saying the charges do not surprise him and Ruth’s charges border on being an illegal campaign tactic.
In a letter dated Jan. 15 to the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, Ruth says Watson “told this close circle [of friends] not to publicize [his run for sheriff] before he was re-elected as state representative” in 2012.
“Since he had only token opposition, I believe he didn’t want this information out because it may restrict his fund raising opportunities; knowing he was going to use it to run for sheriff,” Ruth writes in his letter.
The letter then strays from the campaign issue and goes into Ruth’s charges that Watson was not truthful about the circumstances behind his departure from the department.
Ruth then returns to his original campaign allegation.
“The point I am making is that Watson says he was running for sheriff all along and yet continued to collect tens of thousands of dollars toward a state representative race,” Ruth said.
Ruth also wrote his claim that two of Watson’s donors have stated to him “they did not give [Watson] money to be used in a sheriff’s race.
“I believe Watson acted fraudulently, knowing that he [sic] rules governing the state representative race are far more lax than the rules for the sheriff’s race,” he wrote. “The maximum amounts raised for a state representative are almost limitless and donors are hidden by PAC groups and those donors are not as accountable as those in the local county race.”
Watson said the charges from the Ruth campaign “do not surprise me.”
“They are the same dirty tactics that Ruth and his administration used in the 2010 race against their opponent,” Watson said.
He said the accusations made by Ruth are false.
Watson provided a press release from the department announcing his resignation from the Sheriff’s Office dated Oct. 5, 2011.
“Due to his dual role as a deputy and state representative, we stressed the need to avoid even the appearance of improper conduct or ‘double-dipping,’” the statement says. “After due consideration by Captain Watson concerning his future, he has determined to resign his post and further his career. The Bradley County Sheriff’s Office concurs with Captain Watson in accepting his resignation. We wish him well in his other pursuits.”
Watson also provided copies of a check dated Dec. 12, 2011, showing an adjustment in his favor of $503.51 as well as a letter from the state Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission dated March 6, 2012, showing Watson’s certification as a peace officer.
“There is nothing in Officer Watson’s P.O.S.T. officer file to indicate any problems or any action pending to revoke his Tennessee P.O.S.T. certification,” the letter signed by Chief Investigator Johnny Welch stated.
Watson says the personnel accusations border on breaking Tennessee Code Annotated 2-19-142, which makes it a Class C misdemeanor “for any person to publish or distribute or cause to be published or distributed any campaign literature in opposition to any candidate in any election if such person knows that any such statement, charge, allegation, or other manner contained therin with respect to such candidate is false.”
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, said in an email to media outlets transferring funds from one campaign to another is legal.
“You can transfer excess campaign funds which means funds that were raised for an election and that election has been completed so they are excess and can be transferred,” Rawlins wrote.
“I am not going to engage in negative campaigning like the Bird/Ruth administration has chosen to do,” Watson said. “I promise to stay on the high road. My record speaks for itself.”